Caring for a puppy with Shaking Puppy Syndrome can be daunting…
…and like most people facing this:
You probably have no idea where to begin.
But I'm here to tell you two things:
First, the more you know about this condition, the better for you and your puppy.
Second, there are a lot of actionable steps you can take right away!
I've received a couple of emails from readers about SPS and so, in this post, I'll do two things…
First I'll give you the lowdown on SPS.
Second, I'll share with you how you can best help your puppy with SPS.
What is Shaking Puppy Syndrome (SPS)?
Here's a video shared with me by a reader here at GSC who's opened her heart to a pup with SPS. These are German Shepherd pups at 5 weeks old.
Shaking Puppy Syndrome is a hereditary condition also known as Canine Hypomyelination. And primarily it results in delayed myelination of nerves. It affects the Central or Peripheral Nervous Systems in dogs.
What is Myelin (and Why is it so Important)
Myelin is an insulating sheath that surrounds nerve fibers also known as axons.
Myelin has a vital role since it's responsible for fine muscle control and also for the speed of, and efficient conduction of signals to the muscles.
When the Myelin sheath is affected the nerve impulses run awry and cause the muscles to malfunction.
Shaking Puppy Syndrome Symptoms
In most cases when pups with SPS are born, they appear healthy. Symptoms usually appear at around the 1 to 2-week mark or when puppies become mobile and start walking.
If a puppy is affected, they will present with some or all of these symptoms:
- Tremors in their hindquarters.
- Head Tremors.
- Issues with coordination and balance.
- Poor reflexes.
- A wider than normal gait to help with balance.
- Smaller in size compared to unaffected littermates, even before symptoms appear.
- Pups can struggle to nurse since the tremors make it challenging to reach their mother's teets.
- Puppies often have trouble gaining weight and muscle condition due to feeding or nursing issues. Also, the constant tremors burn a tremendous amount of energy.
Activities that arouse excitement can worsen the tremors. Think about activities like eating, playing and training here. But when puppies are resting, the tremors can subside or even disappear entirely.
Which Breeds are More Prone to Shaking Puppy Syndrome?
Some breeds like the Springer Spaniel and Weimaraner are predisposed to SPS. But it can present in any breed, including mixed breeds.
Other breeds that are known to be prone to SPS include:
- Australian Silky Terriers
- Bernese Mountian Dogs
- Border Terriers
- Chow Chows
- Golden Retrievers
- Welsh Springer Spaniels
How is SPS Inherited?
In DNA testing there are three categories for SPS – affected, carrier and clear.
For this disorder to be passed on to offspring, both parents must carry the gene mutation.
But even if both parents are carriers, it's not set in stone that all puppies in a litter will be affected. Some pups might be carriers and others might be clear.
If only one parent carries the gene mutation and passes it on, their offspring will be considered carriers.
And it's worth noting here that although carriers show no symptoms, they can pass the gene on to their offspring and so breeding them should be avoided.
Diagnosing Shaking Puppy Syndrome
Your first port of call in diagnosing SPS is a visit to a veterinarian. A diagnosis of SPS is made by excluding all other possible causes first.
As a starting point, your vet will want a full medical history of your puppy. And a good vet will perform a bunch of critical tests to determine whether you're dealing with Shaking Puppy Syndrome.
Your vet will look at clinical signs as well as perform blood and urine tests to rule out toxins or other imbalances as a possible cause.
And a neurologic examination will help to rule out other possible causes such as damage to cranial nerves or the spinal cord.
Your vet might also order a range or other exams or procedures to rule other disorders. CT scans, Electromyography, and an MRI scan are possibilities here.
What is the Prognosis for a Puppy with SPS?
Unfortunately, there is no standard treatment for Shaking Puppy Syndrome. And prognosis depends a whole lot on a puppy's breed type, gender and whether the Central or Peripheral nervous systems have been affected.
According to PetMD, puppies affected by CNS Hypomyelination will likely make a recovery by the age of 1 to 1.5 years. Although many of them will continue to experience slight tremors in their hindquarters.
And puppies affected by PNS Hypomyelination will most likely live a normal lifespan.
Speaking to your vet to discuss the quality of life for a puppy with SPS is essential. Some folks will elect to send their puppy over the rainbow bridge while others will choose to give their puppy a fighting chance.
And many of these puppies will grow into dogs that can take part in regular doggy activities and live normal lifespans.
9 Actionable Steps You Can Take to Help Your Puppy with SPS
Get Support from a Holistic Vet
The first and most important step in caring for a puppy with puppy shaking syndrome is to get the support of a holistic vet.
A holistic vet not only practices conventional veterinary medicine. They also specialize in complimentary treatments that will benefit your puppy with SPS.
Their practices are focused on patient well-being and stress-reduction. In most cases, their treatments are minimally invasive. And a knowledgeable holistic vet will determine the best mix of conventional and alternative therapies to support your puppy.
Consider a Whole Food Diet
I am a firm supporter of whole food, raw diets for dogs. And since puppies with Shaking Puppy Syndrome burn a lot of energy and need that extra support for their muscles, I highly recommend a raw diet.
You can read about raw diets here. And I also recommend you make discussing your puppy's food with your holistic vet a top priority.
Keep Them Hydrated
Pups with SPS often struggle to do simple things like drink water. In the video I shared earlier you can see how the puppy on the left is having a tough time taking a drink of water.
If you notice that your pup is not taking enough water, a straightforward way to deal with this is to start adding water to their food.
Adding water to their food is a trick I learned when I was nursing my senior dog, Charley. And it'll work well to ensure your shaking puppy gets enough water too.
Promote Conditioning and Body Awareness
Appropriate exercise for a puppy with SPS is invaluable since they often suffer from poor conditioning and muscle tone.
Although a young puppy in the throes of SPS might not be able to take part in regular puppy activities, you can still help them stay active.
Consider getting involved in canine conditioning and body awareness exercises at home. These activities could prove helpful by supporting your puppy to keep muscle tone and develop awareness of their body.
An excellent place to start is by joining a Facebook group, and one I highly recommend is Canine Conditioning and Body Awareness.
These types of groups have thousands of members with a lot of experience who will happily share their knowledge with you.
Start Canine Hydrotherapy
I can't sing the praises of hydrotherapy for dogs enough. I was introduced to the benefits and power of hydrotherapy several years ago when I was nursing Charley after hip surgery.
Hydrotherapy is done either in a heated swimming pool or an underwater treadmill.
Exercise in water has many benefits for dogs. The water supports their weight so they can essentially exercise “weightless.”
The water also provides resistance which is a healthy way to build and condition their muscles.
Hydrotherapists also offer a host of other treatments that may be beneficial for your pup. So I recommend working with a professional. They will create a plan specific to your puppy's needs.
Lion's Mane Mushroom and Other Mushroom Supplements
There's a lot of conflicting information online about dogs and mushrooms. And there are a significant number of excellent articles on the subject, like this one by SimpleWag.
I've specifically singled out Lion's Mane Mushroom here because research shows that this mushroom increases the production of Myelin. And the process of myelination begins earlier as compared to controls.
If you're keen to try a mushroom supplement for your puppy, make a point of chatting to your holistic vet about it first. If they have a preferred Lion's Mane mushroom supplement, go with it.
From my research, I haven't found a Lion's Mane only supplement specific to our canine friends. But, I have seen options that contain Lion's Mane as well as other immune-boosting fungi.
Dr. Mercola Organic Mushroom Complex for Pets
This supplement from Dr. Mercola is my top choice.
It's 100% organic and made from certified whole food mushrooms. It contains 8 of the major fungi beneficial to our pets (including the powerful Lion's Mane mushroom). And all mushrooms are grown in the USA.
It's formulated to be safe for pets. Although it has not been tested for safety in pregnant, nursing or breeding dogs.
And what I like most is that you can see exactly how much of each mushroom is in a scoop.
Not to mention the fact that Dr. Karen Becker had a hand in developing this product. Check out this short video by Dr. Becker below…
Play Puzzle Games
As I've already mentioned puppies with Shaking Puppy Syndrome might not always be up to physical activities. And this is where puzzle games are a blessing.
These games will keep your puppy stimulated, entertained and develop their senses. And the best part is these games help build confidence and a strong dog-owner bond.
Puzzle games are super easy to set up, and you can use items you already have in your home. Think plastic cups and containers, cardboard boxes, empty toilet rolls and, even muffin pans.
There are also a host of great puzzle games you can get off Amazon. Check out this article about the Trixie Game Bone Puzzle. And don't forget to watch the video I made with my dog!
Support Their Comfort
Of course, we always want our canine buddies to be comfortable. But caring for a puppy with SPS means you'll need to take some extra steps.
The first thing to consider is ensuring that your puppy can eat properly. And remember that their shaking might be ramped up during eating.
So depending on the severity of the shaking, you might need to consider hand feeding your puppy.
Due to balance issues, puppies with SPS often have a hard time standing over their feeding and drinking bowls. If this is the case with your puppy, consider using a raised feeder to make things easier for them.
I highly recommend using only stainless steel or ceramic bowls for hygiene purposes. And preferably any raised feeder should be sturdy and have a non-slip bottom.
I particularly like this raised feeder from FOREYY. It's non-slip with a sturdy design. And it's made from water-resistant Bamboo with two stainless steel bowls.
But if you're the creative, DIY type, then nothing is stopping you from building a raised feeder for your puppy at home. Check out these free plans for an elevated feeder.
Another important consideration for a puppy with SPS is being comfortable during sleep.
And although a gene mutation causes SPS, you still want to do everything you can to support the development of your pup.
Sleep is not only essential for healthy puppy development. But in studies on rats, researchers found that the production of myelin-forming cells increases the most, doubling actually, during REM sleep.
Your puppy may also display signs of tiredness more often, and it's understandable when you consider the stress of their body from constant shaking.
So consider providing your puppy with the most comfortable bed for rest and sleep. Check out these orthopedic beds I have reviewed here.
Dip Your Toes into Clicker Training
So you already know that arousing activities like training can increase the shaking. But training is still an essential part of raising a happy and healthy puppy.
The first thing I highly recommend is dipping your toes into clicker training. It's an excellent way to train any dog because it's positive, force-free and fun. Here's an article to help you get the hang of how clicker training works.
For puppies who have SPS, setting up formal training sessions are still a great way to train when they feel up to it.
But for those days when they feel tired or under the weather, training doesn't have to take a back seat.
And this is where capturing comes in. I love using capturing to train my own dogs because it's so easy. Essentially it's capturing the moment you see them doing something you like, by clicking and offering a food reward.
Donna Hill is a great dog trainer who has a bunch of excellent videos on Youtube. Here's one where she demonstrates how to capture a “sit” behavior.
If you've opened your heart to a puppy with Shaking Puppy Syndrome hopefully, you have a clearer picture of what you're dealing with.
And with these actionable tips, you will be able to support your pup in the best ways possible.
The information out there on helping a puppy with SPS is limited, and so this article will be a growing body of knowledge. If you have any tips of your own or questions, drop them in the comments below.